Four Ways Biometrics Could Change the In-Branch Banking Experience

By Philippe Benitez

Biometric technologies are here to stay. That much is evident, thanks to consumers’ avid adoption of mobile devices and everyday applications that leverage fingerprint identification, facial recognition and other modalities that already extend into the mobile banking realm. As that tech diffuses into other parts of daily life and business, including airports, automobiles and commerce, it’s worth considering how it might transform bank branches, one of the last bastions left relatively untouched by the digital revolution.

Despite those slow-moving tendencies, the long-predicted death of the bank branch hasn’t quite panned out the way that some forecasters expected, as recent research from Fiserv and The Harris Poll shows that an overwhelming 80 percent of consumers visited a bank branch in the prior six months. Still, many branches are long past due for a makeover, and brick-and-mortar just might be the next frontier where biometrics can take root. Here’s a look at four ways banks could make in-branch experiences more convenient, streamlined and secure:

Ideal ID Verification

Verifying a potential banking customer’s identity in advance of opening a new account or cashing checks may not be the most thrilling topic, but it’s hugely important in the context of modern know your customer and anti-money laundering regulations and directives. It’s also worth noting that five of the top 10 fraud methods involve fake IDs. The status quo process of relying on a bank employee to manually examine a driver’s license, passport or other ID credential and then compare it to the customer’s likeness to establish identity is inherently flawed. Plus, roughly 75 percent of the security details useful for verifying the authenticity of an ID credential are invisible to the naked eye. Introduce a tag-team of machine learning-powered document readers and biometrics, and the propensity for human error could be completely circumvented by the customer simply presenting his or her fingerprint or face to be checked against both their ID document and various watchlists. Biometrics could confirm identities in real time.

Locking Down the Valuables

Although Hollywood tends to massively overblow criminal incidents and the frequency with which they occur at branches, there is something to be said for ensuring that a very limited subset of branch employees is able to enter the vault and safety deposit room. As we’ve seen with enterprise and government access, keys or smartcards provide one obvious layer of physical security, but facial or iris recognition at the entryway to such restricted areas would provide a second digital layer that’s far more difficult to steal, game or otherwise bypass for access to some of the most valuable assets held by banks for their customers.

Personalizing Self-Service

While branches continue to serve a distinct purpose, many larger banks are making a clear pivot toward more self-service processes and technologies in those physical spaces. Increasingly, upon walking into a branch location, you’re likely to spot self-contained kiosks where customers can do everything from ordering an instantly-issued replacement credit card to enrolling in a new online banking or loan service. Biometrics could represent the on-ramp to those activities, verifying that the customer is indeed who they say they are and thus able to access accounts and make changes without a bank employee ever needing to get involved.

Advanced ATM Access

It’d be fair to point out that ATMs aren’t always located at a branch, but we’re going to lump them in here anyway. The ways that ATMs fit into this biometrics equation are twofold. Many bank branches have shifted their “outdoor” self-service ATMs into small, monitored alcoves with a door that allows one customer at a time. Sometimes, those currently require a cardholder to swipe a bank card to gain access, but that could easily be replaced by fingerprint authentication. Then, once an individual is standing in front of the machine, built-in fingerprint, iris or facial recognition could initiate the transaction and replace cards and PINs as identity verifiers. In addition to the convenience factor of not needing to remember to bring a card in the first place, there’s the benefit of all but eliminating ATM skimming, which can be perpetrated using a hijacked card and stolen PIN. To those ends, a number of ATM providers have been running pilots to test biometric-powered units around the world.

The promise for simplicity, convenience and security is real and has the potential to permeate the branch experience. It’s important to acknowledge that any of these biometric implementations bring up challenges surrounding where and how data will be stored and accessed, which can be adequately addressed through many combinations of narrowly tailored databases, templates, secure documents (with data embedded), encryption and mobile devices. While those considerations and other required infrastructure enhancements may not be cheap and certainly won’t happen overnight, three to five years from now, bank branches just might finally stop sticking out like a sore thumb by embracing our biometric future. 

Philippe Benitez is manager of biometrics, document readers and identity verification for commercial markets at Gemalto. For more information, visit

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